Emma died a few weeks ago. It was a secondary cancer. Took just months. And the world feels that much more lonelier now she has gone. I've written on death before but she is leaving a hole that seems to take me back through the years.
I have fond memories of her.
Being at the Higgs' household, where we both used to frequent as kids. She was Sarah's friend and James mine.
We also grew up in the same church. Her father used to drive me, my two brothers, mum & dad to church in the days before we had a car. I recall it was the days where you could all lil in the back even sit in the boot. He was one of the jolliest people that I ever knew. Smiley. Kind and Loving. The family always appeared to have something special about them.
In more recent years Emma & her husband Eric have been supporters of ours. They believed in our family mission. They enabled us to continue to do our service for the poor. We really could not do anything without them.
I remember speaking with you whilst undergoing treatment for your cancer (the first time round) at a prayer evening where you were beaming of hope and healing as it had recently gone.
Then I heard that it had come back a few months ago. It was a deep time of prayer for us as we followed you to your final moments.
When I heard the fatal news I really wished that it wasn't true. I knew it was coming. I didn't want it to. I held out for hope of healing. Yet I knew it was coming.
Truth be told you made me realise that this could easily have been me or us. Not only were you like us, a parent of four children, you were also part of my generation and friend since childhood. And one day it really will be me, or Angie, that will be on death's doorstep. The thing that you have taught me however is not of death but life. I just hope between now and the day we eventually die we, too, will live bravely and courageously as you have done.
It's hard to say much more beyond an expression of really deep gratitude that sinks to the depths of my very being. You have inspired me and so many of us (and it seems like the list is endless) with your belief and strength.
Seeing the slow motion impending peril descend upon you.
Many times have I had to intervene to stave off that scythe that hangs over you and your family when you dance with an encounter with death.
This time instinct kicked in when I heard the first spurting cough. That distinctive sound of a lodging of food in the oesophagus. The sound also indicated that it was an infant. I could hear the words starting to make sense: Ezra was choking.
Ezra is loving apples and crisps. But each are tough texture for him. It doesn't stop him trying for it either. He has a cute way of pursing his finger tips together with his thumb and then pressing each hand together. It's his was of asking how something.
The apple must have been Caleb or Reuben's. They were watching a TV programme. I was Utting on the other side of the room and intervention time was costly seconds away. I had already wasted a few processing and diagnosing the problem. Ezra was choking and I was still a few seconds away.
I jumped up and then I heard it. The hollow slam on the back. The mild choke. Tears streaming and the munching continuing. Only I hadn't made it across the room yet. I was only just off the mark.
The thump and intervention came from Caleb. Having diagnosed and quickly identified the response was there before me.
His embrace was also there for the unknowing infant who was asking again for more.
Death's scythe missed. Thank you Caleb for saving your brother's life.
I was convinced we were going to stay in the EU this morning.
The headlines would be a triumphant we have voted remain. A jubilant European flag waving.
It was never an easy vote. I have been swayed by both sides and heard, read around the debate. I'm no expert but I've not taken this vote lightly either.
On the one hand my heart was pining for something different to the status quo, business as unusual, a gamble, a new way of doing things.
My head however, was saying that strength came in working even harder at peace and unity. (I was even sighing as I said these words in my head). These efforts are, as I am realising, not cheap. They cost dearly: energy, passion, continual door knocking, inviting and table conversations and the sheer money involved thinking surely there's someone who can pay for this and realising that there's no one but you to step up and fork out the cash, the time, the energy, the persuasion, the sleeplessness and drive to get out of bed yet again to do the same. The gains as well are often small and almost baby steps. No 'Big Bang for a Buck' more like a 'pindrop for an IOU for more money than you have in a noisy room'.
This is the price of peace. It's you.
You can't buy it off amazon.
Peace is not cheap. And peacemakers are selling their souls, bodies to be slaves to this idea. Whether it's in the office, the school, the streets, the Calais Jungle, or the slums of Kiberia or the corridors of the Governments and United Nations.
Their opposition is: doubt, despair, laughter at your expense, ridicule, jibes, shaming, slander.
Their allies: belief, hope, love, collaboration, community, courage.
All that keeps going round and round my head are the words "blessed are the peacemakers".
I'm upset by the vote this morning. The EU in itself is not so much the issue for me, nor is the fact that the outcome didn't represent my vote nor my voice. But what really gets me is that we gave in to the opponents of peacemaking and peace building and bought into their rhetoric. That makes me feel used and dirty.
But peace is something that this family believes in and we're willing to pay the price. We're not giving up because of this vote and all the rhetoric that comes with it. We still believe in those words "blessed are the peacemakers" and stand with those who strive for peace.
When it ends do you just pick up where you left from. Go back to the house you lived in. Buy coffee from the people who attacked you. It's a game changer. A world that is pulled away from beneath your feet leaving you alone, destitute and permanently amongst strangers.
The strength that remains turns towards survival. Clinging to the little that you already possess and the ones you travel with. Their safety become paramount.
This week a family I know prepare to reunite with a daughter, a sister next week.
They were separated in the aftermath of a cruel war that claimed a brother and son and a husband and father. Shortly after the mobs came for more. Violating. Stripping dignity from this family. Helpless. Alone.
They are thrown out of their home. A battered mother and her four young children. A son and three girls. The youngest; a few years old. Their neighbours turning upon them.
The war ends.
Their lives are overturned. No going back. Spending the next few years in a slum like community. The peace keepers remain.
The mother is given an option to spare her youngest this life that ensnares them. The poverty is more than cruel. It's cold. It's hunger. It's hopeless. It's loneliness. It's boredom. It's powerlessness. It's welcoming the stares of pity. Salvation, however, is offered to spare her child. To give her a future. To allow her the chance to grow up free from this place. The decision: to allow another to take the child and raise them.
An indecent proposal.
Painfully and reluctantly she accepts under conditions to keep in touch. To allow a return and access to the daughter & sister.
The family say goodbye.
The deal doesn't work out. They are palmed off after. They misunderstood their terms and were misled. A family ripped apart once again.
It's hard to find anything of hope in all of this. Sometimes it seems the only thing to do is to stop and just sit down with each other. No words.
This week I've been asked to pray as well over a decade later this young girl, now a young lady, returns to her family.
One of the sisters said "Soon my dream will become reality and that's all thanks to God."
I'm here this week for the world's first Humanitarian summit assembled by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.
He doesn't know me (though I have met him once before) but he has invited me, or our organisation, Empathy Action to be here.
Why? Because we showed some of his team what amazing people are doing to build from brokenness a livelihood. They are the UN and know this well. But I think we were able to speak not only to their heads but also to their hearts this time.
We were able to share our belief that everyone is a part of the solution to the broken planet we live on. It starts, however, with something very basic: caring, compassion and empathy. It starts with our hearts.
It's a different language but one that is so vital right now in an digital age that is somewhat industrialising the de-humanising process. A heart to heart conversation so to speak.
Here's a lovely video teaser that my colleague, and full time volunteer, made about Empathy Action at the #ShareHumanity conference:
I have a few hours left in this border city to Syria Before heading to the World Humanitarian Summit.
Sitting now in a hotel room I'm trying to encapsulate what it feels like to be here on a border city to Syria. It hosts, I'm told, over 200,000 displaced Syrians Which is a conservative estimate.
Antakya is a wonderful city. It boasts the first Christian church. An area that is rich with history.
My experience over the past 48 hours includes incredible hospitality, visits to Syrian schools, sitting in the houses of displaced widows and their families, speaking with people who are wanted men just a few kilometres over the border and even heard from people who've had their family members affected by the chemicals used in dirty bombs and even some whose bodies have been found in rivers after going to prison.
This city is special. But it is also tired.
My colleague said this place feels like the amazing big brother that is housing its younger sibling. However, like most visits to your home, there is a point where they wonder when are they going to move out. After awhile that wonder can turn to different feelings.
In my travels throughout this city I have been referred to as brother time and time again: "my brother", "you are not a friend you are my brother"... "Thank you my brother".
As for me, I know this being the youngest of three brothers that we all need those older, or younger, siblings to help us out.
I have always wanted to theme out events that are saturated in stories of powerful partnership between the poor and rich.
This week that dream starts to come real. One area that I have been focusing on for the past several years are 'products with purpose' placed in the hands of people by caring people as a gift. For example at birthday parties or weddings and now events.
On Sunday I go to the world's first UN Humanitarian summit. The organisers care deeply about this area and want to convey this. They are doing so through the event, the agenda and also through a gift that we have helped create with partners in Cambodia.
The gifts are key rings made by people from a country that has emerged from a ruthless civil war. A war that left field and field of dead people. A regime of tyrannical dictator. From the bullets and artillery shells come these key rings that have been made by artisans for the participants of the summit.
The message of the summit is around shared humanity.
I'm stoked to be part of this and even more so to see a proof of concept from all those years ago.
Most weeks there's a permission slip request from school for one of the boys. Usually it's a fairly simple process.
I was caught off guard at Pristina airport at the passport control when the policeman asked whether I had permission from the boy's mother to travel.
There are a number of ways that I could have handled this. But the one I chose was, maybe not the best either, a vacant stare at the policeman completely lost for words for all of those few seconds before I blurt out "I'm his father!"
He looks at me. He looks down at Caleb.
My mind is wrestling with whether I should say something or not.
He looks again and waves us through .
Trafficking children is still a big problem. The family we will be staying with had one of their children "given for adoption" during the post war period.
One group I worked with said that it's the airlines and their staff that "just know" who are being taken and they are powerless to intervene.
Caleb and I walk through hand in hand to get our baggage.